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Rotated Reign squad fall to Racing Louisville

Goalkeeper Laurel Ivory had some impressive saves.

NWSL: NWSL Preseason-OL Reign at Racing Louisville Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

A heavily rotated OL Reign squad, which included just one starter from their opening match, was put under some pressure against Racing Louisville and lost 2-0 in their second match of the Portland preseason tournament.

Bethany Balcer, who went 45 minutes in the Reign’s opener against the U-23 USWNT, was the only returning starter to the Reign’s lineup. Goalkeeper Laurel Ivory got the start on Wednesday evening, while Veronica Latsko and Elyse Bennett started alongside Balcer in the front. Olivia Athens played an attacking midfield role, with Olivia Van der Jagt and Nikki Stanton behind her. Alyssa Malonson, draft pick Shae Holmes, Sam Hiatt, and Ryanne Brown rounded out the backline.

Racing Louisville, meanwhile, brought back seven players who started in the NWSL club’s opening match against Portland, which resulted in a 1-0 Racing loss on a last-minute Thorns goal. Goalkeeper Katie Lund and defenders Carson Pickett, Abby Erceg, Elli Pikkujämsä, along with all three midfielders — Jaelin Howell, Ary Borges, and Savannah DeMelo — were again starting to help build team cohesion for a club that welcomed a lot of new players.

OL Reign put the pressure on Racing Louisville early, with Bennett getting a couple of great chances on the left wing. The new Reign forward, acquired in a trade with Kansas City, applied strong pressure on a couple of occasions and used her pace to dribble into the box. Louisville stayed organized though, and cut off any dangerous Reign chances.

The momentum shifted around the 13th minute when Louisville started applying a lot of pressure on the wings as the Reign tried to build out of the back. Racing’s first chance came via DeMelo, who dribbled by a couple of Reign players on the left side of the field and cut the ball back to Jess McDonald at the top of the box. Her shot was deflected slightly and glanced off the crossbar before going out for a corner. Louisville earned two more corners after that, and Reign goalkeeper Ivory had to come up big a few minutes later.

In the 21st minute, Brazilian midfielder Ary got a great shot off from the top of the box, but Ivory extended to her right and pushed the ball out for another corner. In the 33rd minute, Ivory came up big again — getting low to kick-save a Pickett shot on the back post, which came from a loose ball during a set piece.

The Reign picked up a little momentum to close out the half, with a Balcer shot in the box — off a slipped pass from Latsko — going just over the crossbar. Still, after 45 minutes it was 6 shots for Racing Louisville and just 2 for OL Reign.

OL Reign made two changes at halftime, bringing Jimena López on for Malonson at left back and Jordyn Huitema on for Balcer. The Reign again started on the front foot, with Bennett receiving a ball in the box right after kickoff, but her near-post shot bounced off the post and out of play.

Louisville would cause trouble on the other end just a minute later. They got numbers into the box in transition, and draft pick Kayla Fischer found Parker Goins near the 6-yard box. Her one-touch shot was on frame, but Ivory again made a great reaction save and pushed it out for a corner.

Louisville went up 1-0 in the 51st minute when Fischer muscled her way around Stanton and unleashed a shot from the top of the box. The two Reign centerbacks closed down quickly on the midfielder, but their slight deflection pushed the ball to the left corner.

McDonald doubled Louisville’s lead in the 65th minute. The veteran forward jumped on a back pass, beating Ivory to the ball near the edge of the box. It slid behind Ivory, and McDonald tapped it into goal. A very preseason type of goal.

In between the two goals, Emily Sonnett came on at centerback for the Reign, Tziarra King subbed onto the front line, and Marley Canales and Rose Lavelle came into the midfield.

Draft pick Natalie Viggiano came on in the 71st minute, replacing Latsko at right wing, and Sofia Huerta replaced Brown, who had a solid performance at right back — including a gorgeous diagonal ball near half to King in the box that resulted in a shot.

In the 84th minute, Lauren Barnes and Alana Cook subbed on, with Cook serving as a withdrawn forward — presumably to simulate a scenario where the Reign were trying to come from behind late in a match. The Reign had a couple of great opportunities in the closing minutes, but couldn’t find the back of the net.

The game ended 2-0, with Louisville outshooting the Reign by 11 to 10.

Despite the scoreline, fans shouldn’t panic. Preseason matches are not about the score at all. They are a chance to build team cohesion, try players in certain positions, and build match fitness. Draft pick Holmes looked solid in her nearly 90 minutes on the backline, Ivory came up with some big saves, and Bennett showed how electric she can be on the wing. The match was a great test for OL Reign’s rotational players, who were put under pressure from a young and speedy Racing Louisville side. Through it all, they continued to try to apply OL Reign’s principles of building from the back and pressuring opponents high up the field.

To close out the preseason, the Reign will face the Portland Thorns on Saturday, March 18. That match kicks off at 7:30 PM PT.

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